Capitol Reef and its amazing rock suite

I shot more than 500 pictures out the pitted and blistered windows of the United Airbus 320 I took from Chicago to Orange County, day before yesterday. The shot above is one of them. It’s part of this series here, all of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

What I’m hoping is that somebody somewhere has troubled to identify all the rock strata on display here. If not, I’ll do it eventually. Meanwhile, I’ll at least tell you that the lightest color rock — the spine of the “reef” that stands out most in the larger feature known locally as the Waterpocket Fold — is Navajo Sandstone. Read more about it at that last link.


  1. Ron Schott’s avatar

    Spectacular set of photos, Doc! I’m working on annotating the geology for you – I recognize most of the units, but I want to pull out my geologic maps and confirm them.

    By the way, were the colors really that vivid out of the plane window, or have they had a little help in Photoshop or the Gimp?

  2. Ron Schott’s avatar

    Alright Doc, here’s a Google Earth folder that contains an overlay of the geologic map of the area, the stratigraphic column (so you can figure out what the unit symbols mean), and a photo overlay of the image above (positioning only approximate):

  3. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Ron. I figured this was red meat for you, and/or your students. 🙂

    The colors were less vivid. Not only were the windows gray’d by blisters and deposits, but there was haze in the air. This required adjusting color levels to pull out the detail.

    But what I did with this series, more than with others I’ve shot, is adjust the color levels to maximize distinctions between formations. My bias was toward comprehension rather than accuracy. Kind of like NASA does to, say, reveal storms on Jupiter. You might say this series was for geological purposes more than sightseeing ones.

    By contrast this series (of Comb Ridge, Cane Valley and Goosenecks, shot several years back), was shot from a higher elevation (41,000 feet) through much clearer air, so it required little if any adjustment (though I think I did some correcting… don’t remember). That series was also shot with my old Nikon CoolPix 5700, which I still miss. Not only did it produce much more vivid colors than the Canon 30D (which I used for most of the shots in the current series), but its smaller objective lens had much less trouble with optical distortions in the window. Its flip-out viewer, which could be twisted many ways, also allowed me to shoot close to straight down, at angles I couldn’t see with my own eyes. So it was an ideal camera for this kind of work. Alas, I gave it away (to somebody who I thought needed it but never used it, which was a bummer). In fact, I’d like to buy a used 5700 or 8700, just for shooting out plane windows.

    And I love the .kmz. Outstanding, and well done.

  4. FCrostic’s avatar


    Which camera?

    Marian Crostic

  5. FCrostic’s avatar

    Don’t bother to answer, I re-read your note to Ron and see
    that you used a Nikon CoolPix 5700.


  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Marian, I realize I wasn’t clear, so I went back and change the wording a bit. The CoolPix was used in this older set, but not in anything I shot on Monday. It was long gone by then.

    I also should point out that the closest I can come to the small-lens and shooting-angle convenience of the old Nikon is my Canon PowerShot 850IS. That’s how I got this shot, and others in that section of the current series, looking down at the steepest possible angle at the window, toward Swap Mesa, where I have since added captions and tags, thanks to Ron’s .kmz file and Google Earth.

    The little Canon is not the equal of the old Nikon, but it does have one advantage: it’s so small that I can angle it downward without having the edges of the camera bump into the window. With a big SLR, there is a limit to how far you can angle the camera downward.

    Most shots identify which camera was used. Just scroll down and look at the data below the tags on the right side of the page. I don’t know why Flickr doesn’t always show this data, but there ya go.

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